April 17, 2018
The Lion Prides of Hwange National Park

The Lion Prides of Hwange National Park

April 17, 2018

Warning: This post contains pictures of lions being lions... aka hunting and eating other animals.

When going on safari, almost everyone wants to see the "Big Five" which consists of the lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, and the Cape buffalo. The term "Big Five" originated from big game hunters referring to the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt, but the term is also used by non-hunters and in the tourism industry today. Out of the five, the most popular would have to be the king himself. Seeing lions in the wild is such an awesome experience. Lions are one of the most dangerous predators in the world and while on safari, they are just a few feet away from you. At first, it can be nerve-racking seeing lions get that close especially since most safari vehicles are open but once you get comfortable with the idea, you will start to enjoy their presence.

During our stay in Hwange National Park, we got to see two different prides, both with cute little cubs. The adorable little guy above (with the two different colored eyes) was super curious and wasn't afraid to get close to us. At one point, he was only a foot or two away from my side of the vehicle and I'll be honest with you, I was a little on edge. I know adult lions are completely aware of safari vehicles, but little curious cubs might decide to check out what's inside. Lyndon assured me that I would be fine, but the cub and I made eye contact which made my heart race a little bit!

What's more exciting than seeing a pride of lions? Seeing them hunt! On one of our afternoon game drives, we saw a pride of lions relaxing at Ngamo Plains. They were all just laying around (which they do a lot) since they do most of their hunting in the evening or early morning when it's cool outside especially in the summertime. But who else was also at Ngamo Plains? A herd of Cape buffaloes (hundreds of them) and some scattered wildebeests enjoying one of the watering holes. As the herd slowly made its way back to the forest, the lions took notice. They usually don't hunt during the afternoon, but when your potential meal is right in front of you, you have to take a chance.

We saw the lionesses slowly start to stalk and oh man, it was so awesome. For such large animals, they are so sneaky and quiet. This was already a treat to see, but it got even better when one of the lionesses used our vehicle as cover. She stalked her way over and used our vehicle to shield herself from the Cape buffaloes and wildebeests. Lions are such smart animals. Safari vehicles are such a big part of their everyday life now that they use them to their advantage. I've seen pictures of cheetahs climbing on top of vehicles, much to the guests' surprise, to get a better vantage point. Unfortunately, the lioness crept over a little too far and one of the Cape buffaloes saw her and started making a bunch of noise. Their cover was blown. Lions are not fast like cheetahs, they use the element of surprise and their pride to hunt. Once they realized that all eyes were on them, they went back to what they do best, relaxing. Fun fact, lions can sleep up to 20 hours a day!

We didn't get to see a "kill" that afternoon, but on two separate mornings, we did get to see two different prides enjoy their breakfast. The "Stumpy Pride" named after their queen bee because of her stumpy tail killed a Cape buffalo while the other pride enjoyed a wildebeest.       


Lionesses do most of the hunting in the pride but male lions also do help when they are trying to take down larger prey like Cape buffaloes or giraffes. When hunting alone, lions are about 18% successful, but when they hunt as a pride, this goes up to 30%.

As I mentioned above, one of the prides killed a wildebeest sometime during the evening and were just finishing up when we spotted them. The wildebeest was pretty much skin and bones as the last lioness got her share. You could see the vultures and jackals patiently waiting for her to finish so they can get their turn. It's funny how there's a nature hierarchy, and all the animals know where they stand within it. At last, the lioness with a full belly, left to join the rest of her pride as the vultures and jackals made their way to the carcass. In a weird turn of events, I guess the lioness didn't feel like sharing and went back for the wildebeest, scaring off the scavengers. Then she started dragging the carcass with her all the way back to the rest of the pride! I guess it wasn't a "sharing is caring" kind of day.

Lyndon told me multiple times during our trip that our trip was definitely not the norm. I was seeing things during my first ever safari that Lyndon never saw before or it took him years to finally see (and he's been on countless safaris). Seeing lions stalk their prey and seeing them enjoy their kill on the same trip? I said it before, I'll say it again... I was so incredibly lucky!

We had so many highlights during our trip that we actually made a list of all the cool stuff we saw so we wouldn't forget anything when we got back to the States. Lions definitely made the list and I can't wait to post about our other highlights, including a pretty crazy walking safari!


To see some of the stories I mentioned above "in action", check out the video I put together of our Africa trip!


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March 14, 2018
Photo Diary: Hwange National Park's Cheetah Family of Three

Photo Diary: Hwange National Park's Cheetah Family of Three

March 14, 2018

During our time in Hwange National Park, Lyndon and I got to spend some quality time with a mama cheetah and her two adorable cubs. We were extremely lucky and got to see them multiple times throughout our stay in the park. Some people go multiple safaris without seeing a single cheetah, so I know what we saw was something special.

When we first spotted the family of three, we were on a morning game drive with Camelthorn Lodge. Vusa, our guide, spotted her laying underneath a tree in the shade with her two cubs. What started out as excitement quickly turned into worry as we learned that two days prior, she had four cubs with her. What made it even more heartbreaking was her continuing call to her two missing cubs, which made it clear to our guide that they were most likely killed and weren't just hiding in a safe spot.

Cheetahs are the fastest land mammal and can reach 60 mph in just three seconds, but their speed still makes them vulnerable to humans, lost of habitat and prey, and other predators. Cheetahs are listed as vulnerable and there are only an estimated 7,100 cheetahs left in the wild. Cheetahs have it rough, they don't have a pride like lions or a clan like hyenas, but they hunt the same prey and are viewed as competition to other predators. Because of this, their cubs are often killed to "eliminate the competition".

While male cheetahs will stay in pairs or in small groups (most of the time consisting of brothers), female cheetahs are loners and will only spend time with their cubs. The gestation period for cheetahs is three months and on average, a female cheetah will give birth to two to five cubs at once. Cubs will stay with their mother for 18-24 months. In that time, she will teach them everything she knows, especially how to hunt. After 18-24 months, they are off on their own and will need to hunt and fend for themselves. 


Cheetah cubs are tiny, weighing between 5 to 10 ounces when they are born. Because of their small size and vulnerability, nature gave them a pretty funny hairstyle to help protect them from the unpredictable wild. Notice the tall long hair that runs down their backs and tails. This is called a mantle. The mantle helps cubs appear larger than they really are and to help camouflage them into tall grass. Most interestingly, it also makes cheetah cubs look like the feared honey badger. Honey badgers are known for their aggressiveness and their "DGAF" attitude... the perfect animal to mimic. There's a super funny YouTube video about honey badgers, definitely check it out. 

At first, the cubs were skittish of our vehicle which was to be expected since they were only a few months old. They would constantly look over at us and would try to hide behind bushes and trees, but mama cheetah (who has been around thousands of safari vehicles in her lifetime) would let out a little call to reassure them that we weren't going to hurt them and they would quickly scurry back to her. From the first time we saw the cubs to our last encounter with them, we could see a big difference in their comfort level with the safari vehicles. The first few times we saw them, it was just our lone vehicle following them. Our guide kept his distance to make sure he wouldn't scare them. That's how all animals in these national parks get accustom to having safari vehicles around. Fast forward to our last encounter with the cheetah family, us and three other vehicles are now following them and even with four vehicles around, the cubs looked more comfortable having us nearby.  


Not only did we get to see mama cheetah and her cubs, but we also got to see two male cheetahs while in Hwange National Park. One of them could have been daddy cheetah, but we will never know. What was so cool about seeing the two male cheetahs was that we got to see them hunt and run... fast! They spotted a small impala herd in the nearby distance, and as you can see below, they were on high alert. They started off just casually walking towards the herd, cheetahs are fast but the closer they can get, the better. But the impalas aren't dumb animals, they also spotted the cheetahs and their fight or flight instinct took over and they started running. The cheetahs gave chase, going after the baby calf in the herd, and wow are cheetahs fast. Our guide tried to follow the impalas and cheetahs but they ran into some trees and bushes and we lost them. Another vehicle on the other side of the bushes and trees said the impalas got away.

That evening after our afternoon game drive, Lyndon and I went back to our tent and right by our door was a baby impala! It had to be the one the cheetahs were chasing and got separated from its mother and herd. Our guide told us that it would not survive the evening alone and hopefully the mama impala will come looking for it. Nature is a funny thing. One minute, I was hoping the cheetahs would have a successful hunt so they can eat and the next minute, I'm hoping this baby impala survives the night and that nothing will come eat it.

Seeing these cheetah (and as often as we did) was definitely one of the highlights of our entire Africa trip. There was another family that was leaving Linkwasha Camp the day we arrived and they never got to see any cheetahs during their three day stay, so we were so incredibly lucky. Cheetahs are such amazing animals and it makes me sad to think about how there might not be any cheetahs left in the world in the (near) future. Cheetahs are one of Lyndon's favorite animals (it's between them and the leopard) and I have to say, they are quickly becoming one of my faves as well.

To learn more about helping cheetahs, check out the Cheetah Conservation Fund.               


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March 6, 2018
Our Experience on Imvelo's The Elephant Express // Hwange National Park

Our Experience on Imvelo's The Elephant Express // Hwange National Park

March 6, 2018

Being on safari is such an awesome experience but if I had to pick my least favorite part, it would have to be the transfers. In some cases, your transfer might be an hour drive to your next camp which isn't so bad. We had a bunch of those 1-hour transfers since we had to check out a lot of nearby camps while in Botswana and Zimbabwe. In other cases, your transfer might be a drive, a plane ride, plus another drive, and it just wears on you after a while cause all you want is to get to your next destination... and see more animals!

Our longest transfer was when we left Chobe Chilwero Lodge in Botswana and headed towards Camelthorn Lodge in Zimbabwe. Our driver picked us up in the morning and took us to the Botswana/Zimbabwe border which was about 30 minutes away where we had to wait in line to get our Zimbabwe tourist visas. For Americans, make sure to have $30 in cash (US) for your visa. After we got squared away there, another driver drove us from the border to Victoria Falls which was about an hour away. He dropped us off at The Victoria Falls Hotel while he went and got gas and drinks for the vehicle. From Victoria Falls, we drove another 2 hours to Dete, Zimbabwe where we got dropped off at a train station. Stay with me. At this point, I just wanted to get to our destination, plus I didn't know what to expect with the train. After waiting about half an hour, this cute green single railcar showed up with smiling faces. It was Imvelo's The Elephant Express.

In 2015, Imvelo introduced The Elephant Express as their unique transfer to and from their camps in Hwange National Park. When I saw the railcar pull up, my tiredness went away, and I was immediately excited for the last leg of our transfer. Our guide, Vusa, along with the two train engine drivers were on board, and made us feel at home. Vusa served us a much needed lunch (Lyndon and I were both starving at this point) and told us more information about The Elephant Express and Imvelo Safari Lodges.

The Elephant Express is such a great idea. It combines a transfer with a game drive and makes the most of your time in Zimbabwe. The ride time from the Dete railway station to camp is about 2 hours but since it's unofficially also a game drive, it does stop when animals are spotted. It took us about 3 hours to get to camp. We saw a male elephant in the forest, a warthog family, baboons for days, vultures feeding off an elephant that was hit by a passenger train recently... all from the railcar. Our most unique stop was for a leopard tortoise that was sitting right by the tracks. Great spot by our driver, it could have been a very bad day for that tortoise!   


Back in 2015, the killing of Cecil the Lion made headlines in the United States (and around the world) cause a dentist (and recreational game hunter) from Minneapolis went to Zimbabwe to hunt and kill a lion. He killed Cecil, a beloved 13 year old lion from Hwange National Park. There was some controversy, and the hunting guide that the dentist used while in Zimbabwe faced a criminal investigation. The railroad track acts as a border between the national park and private land and a lot of animals roam freely back and forth across the tracks but unfortunately for Cecil and other animals, he stumbled upon a piece of land that allows hunting. During our train ride, you can spot a sign that reads "Cecil's Tree" posted onto a tree. He is greatly missed in this part of Zimbabwe. 

During the final stretch of our train ride, Vusa spotted a worried looking wildebeest staring at something in the near distance. Using his binocular, he spotted a male lion... the brother of the dominant male in the pride to be exact. The lion was actually pretty far away, so Vusa called up to the camp and they sent out a vehicle to meet us at the tracks. Talk about service! Once the vehicle got to us, Vusa, Lyndon and I hopped in and he drove us closer to the lion. This was my first close encounter with a male lion, and it was awesome. He wasn't bothered by us at all. While lions are known to be killers and the "king of the jungle", they are actually pretty chill (as long as you're not prey). The majority of the time when you see a lion, it's most likely sleeping. Reminds me of my dog, Jax.

What started out as a super long transfer, turned out to be a great game drive in the end. The Elephant Express was such an unique experience, and my first impression of Imvelo was nothing short of great. This was just the beginning of our time with Vusa and Imvelo, and I can't wait to share more on the blog in the coming weeks. I have to say, we couldn't have asked for a better start to our Hwange National Park adventure.

Staying in Hwange National Park at an Imvelo Safari Lodge? Definitely try to use The Elephant Express. Of course, if you are short on time or are trying to make a flight, using The Elephant Express might be hard or not an option, but if you get that opportunity, it's a pretty once in a lifetime experience.             


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